4th Round Proper
Saturday January 26th 2008
Kick Off 3:00pm
Weather: Cold and sunny
Distance travelled: 58 miles
I have been watching some of the Africa Cup of Nations in the last few days. There have been entertaining games, plenty of goals and colourful crowds. In fact, some very colourful crowds. The fans at this tournament, and in all previous tournaments, are extolled for their vivid, vibrant attire - a kaleidoscopic of lush colour. Each game I have seen has had one thing in common; the passion of the supporters. The non-stop singing and chanting and the sheer exuberance in the way each goal is celebrated. Each goal, each corner, each free kick. But it is more than that; it is the constant noise from both sets of supporters irrespective of the performance of the team on the pitch. Unconditional support. It has been a breath of fresh air to watch.
Driving the short distance up the M25 to Watford, I was thinking about the colour that would be on show for this Fourth Round encounter. The yellow, black and red of Watford and the black and gold of Wolves. And that turned out to be the case. The interior of Vicarage Road, as one would expect, is all yellow and red. It was another "kids for a quid" day and the children were decked out in their colourful Watford replica shirts and scarves, some donned brightly coloured wigs. The Wolves fans added their own club colours to the canvas. Even the players joined in with an array of coloured football boots; blues, oranges and reds. On a bright sunny day the contrasts seemed all the more intense.
Lots of colour. But no passion. From the home fans at any rate. I can't recall going to a ground where the home support has been so muted. The Wolves fans were in a buoyant, party mood and more of that later, but the support from the Hertfordshire faithful was rather hushed.
Maybe this was justified. If I'm honest, I was surprised by this result. To be brutally honest, Wolves thoroughly deserved it and Watford's performance was disappointingly poor. In this context, one could excuse the reticence of the home support. The attendance (12,719) was low by Watford's standard; this didn't help matters.
Both teams ran out to the theme tune of the "Z-Cars" - Everton were the first club to use this (mid sixties) but other clubs, including Watford, adopted the tune. And it wasn't long after the start that a bit of smash and grab occurred. Wolves took the lead on five minutes when Andy Keogh calmly chipped Richard Lee in the Watford goal. Some Watford fans were still making their way to the seats but the Wolves following, approximately 2000, were celebrating wildly and keeping the stewards, between them and the pitch, well occupied.
Watford's first real chance came after ten minutes when Jobi McAnuff shot wide from range, but the Wolves game plan became evident early on. Happy to sit back and soak up Watford pressure, they relied on Keogh and Boothroyd getting behind the Watford back line with Matt Jarvis supporting quickly from midfield whenever they won the ball.
Watford were unfortunate not to equalise after fifteen minutes when a well taken free kick from the edge of the area by Ellington cannoned off the post with the Wolves goalkeeper well beaten. This turned out to be a pivotal point in the game; an equaliser for Watford there may have changed the course of events.
The remainder of the first half saw equal possession from both sides and a number of corners from both teams; control of the game see-sawed from one team to another. In this period, the Watford boss Aidy Boothroyd was patently not happy and he could be seen berating his side after several chances had fallen to Wolves, one of which forced a good save out of Richard Lee.
The Watford fans had little to cheer. The biggest excitement in our section of the stand was the news coming through from Anfield of Havant & Waterlooville's fantastic achievement - taking an early lead and then leading for a second time against Liverpool. Magnificent. The half-time whistle went and the teams departed to the Wolves cheers and Watford jeers.
Watford were caught napping at the back when, within minutes of the restart, Keogh was put through into acres of space but, with only the goalie to beat, his effort was tame.
This sparked an injection of urgency from Watford who were also spurred on after a likely earful from Boothroyd in the dressing room and the home team started to turn the screw; first a shot from the angle into the side netting and then a couple of corners in quick succession. The Watford fans responded to this and the noise levels increased; Watford continued to press. But one could sense that the next goal would go a long way to determining the outcome of the match.
And, slightly against the run of play, it went to the away team on fifty eight minutes when Elliott was set up by Keogh after good work from Jarvis. The Wolves support once again erupted and the afternoon's first rendition of "Wembeeerleeey, Wembeeerleeey..." filled the ground.
Ten minutes later, the game was effectively over. Keogh and Jarvis combined well once again and this time Boothroyd applied the finish. 3-0 to Wolves and cue a big exodus from the home fans and more manic scenes in the Wolves end.
Many of those that left would have missed an almost immediate response when, after a scramble in the penalty area, John-Joe O'Toole (what a great name) stabbed in from close range. Watford refused to lie down and managed another spell of pressure but failed to make it count. The final nail in Watford's coffin arrived on full time with a crisp strike from Keogh. And I might have been hearing things, but I could have sworn that there were chants of "there's only one Mick McCarthy" from the Wolves faithful.
I enjoyed the game and despite the scoreline it was quite an end to end encounter. The big difference was that Wolves found more space on the break and the Wolves' players seemed to have an edge over Watford's; they looked sharper and quicker in the key areas and made the most of the counter attack. For me, Andy Keogh was man of the match but he was pushed close by Matt Jarvis. Wolverhampton Wanderers march convincingly into the Fifth Round and will (like me) eagerly await Monday's draw.
I was joined on this trip once again by cup stalwarts PB and Mackem, and Captain Beaky who was suffering with a heady mix of night-before Guinness and pre-match Balti pies (plural). He wasn't the only one to suffer the effects and we were all thankful for only a short car journey home.
Reports on the way back mentioned that Mick McCarthy had his Sat Nav stolen from his car. If his players continue to perform like this in the FA Cup, he might well need a replacement for directions to Wembley.
As for Watford, they were distinctly off colour.